TRAILBLAZERS: More British-Chinese Should Begin Their Journey To Westminster
In May 2015 I completed a journey which nobody else had ever made. It began 20 years ago, and 200 miles away, in York. My parents had settled there after escaping communism in China.
As entrepreneurs, they started a takeaway, like many other British-Chinese. They encouraged me to pursue my interest in politics as I worked alongside them, serving customers late into the night.
Two decades later, I took my seat in Parliament as the first MP of British-Chinese or east Asian heritage from any party, propelled by my parents’ support and belief in the limitless possibilities Britain offered.
It’s a journey I never thought I’d make, but it’s one I hope others from the British-Chinese community will repeat.
My first few years in Parliament as a new MP were entirely focused on understanding how Westminster worked and establishing myself in my constituency – I had little time left for much else, including exploring my own heritage. It was also an unprecedently busy and volatile period: in less than five years, I’d contested three general elections, three different prime ministers had served in office, and two Conservative Party leadership contests had taken place, not to mention the European Union referendum and the ensuing battles in Parliament.
Following my ministerial appointment in 2021, and as I begin my seventh year as an MP this May, I’ve become increasingly mindful of the platform I have to encourage others with British-Chinese heritage to contribute to public life.
The British-Chinese are the country’s third largest visible minority, and have contributed immensely to all aspects of national life. Whilst the restaurants and takeaways present in almost every village, town and city are often the most prominent symbols associated with the British-Chinese, they do not represent all that British-Chinese people have achieved in the UK. My parents’ generation now look on with pride as their British-born sons and daughters have flourished in an impressive and wide range of fields unimaginable to their parents. Britain has given them unlimited opportunities to shine and make the most of their talents.
Today, prominent British-Chinese figures include a Deputy Chief Constable, Team GB Olympic Gold medallist, entrepreneurs, public servants in our Armed Forces, NHS, schools and civil service, and many others building careers in a wide range of sectors. Last December, I organised The Blossom Awards, the first ever national initiative to recognise high achievers from the British-Chinese community, to bring some of these inspirational figures together.
Nonetheless, The Economist recently described the British-Chinese as “a model minority as well as a silent one” – referencing the perceived tendency to keep their heads down, particularly when it comes to getting involved in public life. Being geographically dispersed rather than concentrated in clusters, as other minority communities are, has diluted the British-Chinese voice, while the fact that many first-generation immigrants came from a country with little tradition of democracy hasn’t helped.
If British-Chinese voices are to be heard as decisions are made, British-Chinese people must be in the room, at the table, speaking up and influencing outcomes — not just in Parliament but in councils and boardrooms across Britain. There are still too few school governors, charity trustees, magistrates, councillors and MPs of British-Chinese heritage. Only by getting involved in community campaigns, joining political parties, standing for election, and becoming decision-makers can the British-Chinese fully play our part in shaping Britain’s future.
Key to achieving this goal is building a pipeline of talented British-Chinese people to be the parliamentarians of the future. I hope the journey I have made will encourage many others to take their first steps towards becoming an MP, a uniquely impactful and meaningful way to contribute to our national life.
Alan Mak is the Conservative MP for Havant and a government whip
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